Fake news is thrown around so casually these days that it even won the Word of the Year from Collins’ Dictionary in 2017. Here are three helpful tips to make sure you can identify and avoid it.
Examine Sources & Data
“Numbers do not lie” is a popular saying. But it would be more convincing if it were true. When used properly, statistics make an argument more convincing, but they can easily be used to mislead.
For example, a pro-Russian outlet claimed that 3,600 American tanks were being deployed in Eastern Europe against Russia. When the Atlantic Council investigated the claim by comparing it to Army reports however, they found that although 3,600 tanks were stored in Europe, only 87 were actually deployed. When put under the microscope, the piece was in fact false. It was just fear-mongering.
To avoid falling for traps like this, don’t trust a figure at first glance. You can safely avoid this by double checking where a statistic comes from (on Google for example) to see if it’s coming from reliable sources such as a study or another publication.
Check with Other Outlets and Multiple Sources
According to an MIT study, fake news travels faster than real news online. “False news is more novel, and people are more likely to share novel information,” said Professor Sinan Aral, who co-authored the study. But of course, just because something comes off as shocking does not mean that it is true.
The News Media Alliance recommends that readers check what others are saying about a particular story. You can do this by searching whether the story has appeared on any major news outlets or by exploring journalists’ public social media feeds. If no one else seems to be talking about it, there’s a good chance it’s fake.
Use Fact-Checking Tools
Classic fact-checking sites such as BBC’s Reality Check and Snopes investigate major stories for their truthfulness. Others such as StopFake in Ukraine, are more specialised in their focus.
Aside from these sites, others offer a variety of tools that you can use to investigate claims. These include Bellingcat’s guide to verifying video content or Botometer which scores Twitter accounts on their likeliness to be a bot. Draft and the Public Data Lab has also published an extensive methodology for investigating the origins of a fake story.
To conclude, there has been a recent explosion of fake news online. Using a mixture of due diligence and online tools to decipher information however, you needn’t fall for any of it.